Wednesday, 1 February 2023

Hackney Marshes parkrun

Hackney Marshes covers 336 acres of low lying open land located within the Lower Lea Valley in the London Borough of Hackney. As the name suggests, it is historically an area of marsh land, and it formed due to the periodic flooding of the River Lea. Its human history goes back at least to 2,000 years. In Roman times a stone causeway ran across the area, and evidence of a Roman burial ground has also been discovered (possibly just to the west of the marshes). The area has a long tradition of being common land and was largely used for grazing.

The natural course of the River Lea flows along the eastern edge of the marsh and this once marked the border between Middlesex and Essex. There have, over the years, been a few buildings within the marshes, one of these was the White House Inn which was supposedly a place frequented by butcher-turned-highwayman Dick Turpin. It eventually developed a bad reputation (as if hosting highwaymen wasn't bad enough), being the source of late night anti-social behaviour. Finally its licence renewal was refused and it was demolished in 1913.

hackney marshes

The Knights Templar once owned the marshes and during this time watermills, for the grinding of grain, were constructed alongside the river. These mills were later used in the production of lead and, for a time, a newer watermill was used for boring gun barrels. The adjacent River Lea has long been navigable from Hertford all the way through to the River Thames, and improvements made in the late 1760's, where a new channel was created which is known as the Hackney Cut. This now forms the western border of the marshes.

In 1890 the marshes were purchased by the London County Council in order to protect the land from future development, and in 1893/4 Hackney Marshes officially opened to the public as a place of recreation. At around the same time, a flood relief sewer was constructed under the marshes, which lowered the risk of flooding. The adjacent areas had become more appealing for housing and for industry, and both were in high demand as London expanded. Despite the protection granted by the council, small parcels of land were subsequently used for development of housing such as the Kingsmead Estate and for the coal-fired Hackney Power Station (now demolished). 

hackney marshes parkrun

During the First World War the National Projectile Factory was based here, and then during the Second World War, the marshes were used as an Anti-Aircraft Battery location. The devastating effects of the Second World War on East London are well known. Once the war had finished, Hackney Marshes was used a location for the disposal of rubble from destroyed buildings. This rubble was spread across the area which was then covered with soil and grass. It is reported that this raised the level of the marshes by around 2 metres.

During the 1940's the Lesney die cast model factory was built in-between the Hackney Cut and Kingsmead Estate, next to Marshgate Bridge on Homerton Road. This is where the Matchbox toy vehicles were made between 1953 and 1982 (if you use street view on Google maps, you can view the 2008 capture and see the building). The Matchbox name has continued but under various owners, currently Mattel. The building itself stood until around 2009 when it was demolished to make way for a new residential development.

the start

The use of the marshes post-war became centred around a very specific sport; football. In fact, Hackney Marshes is known internationally as the spiritual home of grass-roots and Sunday League football. At one point in time it is said to have had around 120 marked football pitches, however due to further land being lost to developments, that number now stands at around 80 football pitches, mostly full-size, but there are smaller pitches for youth teams and for other variations like five-a-side. Plus there are a small number of other pitches set aside for rugby and cricket.

On 29 May 2010, the marshes became home to a free, weekly, timed, 5 kilometre event called Hackney Marshes parkrun. I originally visited this parkrun venue in December 2012 and took part on a very cold, frosty morning. That original blog wasn't very detailed, and the course has changed since, so in January 2023, I revisited along with the rest of the family to sample the new course and create a more in-depth write-up.

east marsh with the view across to the olympic park / marshal dog

If travelling to the venue on public transport, there may be a bit of walking involved. If using trains, the most pleasant option would be to alight at Stratford Station which is served by mainline, tube, overground and DLR trains. The journey can then be completed on-foot by walking through the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, which is linked to Hackney Marshes by a traffic-free path and footbridges. Other nearby stations are Hackney Wick, and Homerton (Overground), Leyton (Underground), and Lea Bridge (Mainline). The number 308 and W15 buses both stop on Homerton Road, just outside the car park area.

If arriving in a vehicle, there is a car park just off Homerton Road at the southern end of the marshes. It is free-of-charge and can hold somewhere in the region of 150 cars. Adjacent to the car park, outside the Hackney Marshes Centre, are a large number of bicycle racks - this is where I stored my bike when I visited in 2012. However most cycling parkrunners didn't seem to use these and had chosen to use an unofficial location nearer to the parkrun meeting point. There are toilets located at the Hackney Marshes Centre. This is the building that looks like a large rusty box. They were open before 8.30am.

the tarmac section

From the car park it is about a 200 metre walk to get to the start line. You just leave the car park and follow the riverside path, then turn right and cross the bridge. The meeting point, bag drop, start and finish are all located in this area which is called East Marsh. I recorded the route from the car park with my Garmin - The GPS data is on Strava.

The 5k takes place over an out-and-back style course, which could probably be more accurately described as a lollipop (although it doesn't actually look like one). As you may have gathered, the area is completely flat so this is a decent place to go for a good time. Underfoot is a mixture of 3 kilometres of grass and 2 kilometres of tarmac. Buggy runners would be fine on this course. When it comes to choosing footwear, there's a good chance that road shoes would be fine most of the time, but I went for my trail shoes as a precaution.

the football pitches / the view

There's a first-timers briefing, followed by the main briefing which takes place at the start line. The course starts on grass with a full lap of East Marsh where the participants circumnavigate the 11 full-size football pitches which occupy this section of the marshes, in a clockwise direction. You'll get a great view of the Olympic Velodrome and you can also see the 114.5 metre tall ArcelorMittal Orbit sculpture/viewing tower in the distance. The route then joins the path which goes over the River Lea via the bridge (this is where most of the cyclists had secured their bikes). Turning right, the course simply follows the tarmac path alongside the river. It meanders gently as it follows the thin strip of woodland that now separates the football pitches from the river.

For those at the very front or back, try to keep to the right-hand-side of the path when approaching fellow parkrunners. We were at the back and ended up on the left, so found ourselves in a position where we had to stop because there was a constant stream of parkrunners crossing our path. Also worth noting, the path is quite a popular route for cyclists so remember to keep an eye and ear out for approaching bikes. There was also a maintenance vehicle moving around, but the driver was very patient and respectful of all the pedestrians. I also thought that it was worth mentioning that, with Hackney Marshes being largely for sport, the area does lend itself to dog walking, so there were a relatively low number of dog walkers.

more football pitches / the last section of tarmac

At the half-way point, the route leaves the tarmac path and joins the North Marsh grass area (home to 49 football pitches) to begin the return journey. The course simply follows the natural route back adjacent to the football pitches. To assist with directions, there were some yellow flags to guide the way. This was particularly useful for us as we had lost visual contact with those in front of us. This grass section lasts almost exactly 1 kilometre before returning to the tarmac. I was expecting the grass to be muddier than it was, maybe it was just the day we visited, or maybe the drainage is just really good, but the only real mud was the very short sections when entering and leaving the grass.

In total I spotted four human marshals (plus a marshal dog) out on the course, all placed at the junctions where the course changes direction and they did a fine job of keeping everyone on the right course. The last section is just a retracing of the opening 1.5km but in the opposite direction. It starts with a final 500 metres on tarmac which finishes with a return crossing of the bridge. That leaves the one final kilometre where the course again circumnavigates the 11 football pitches, only now in an anti-clockwise direction. The finish is found in almost exactly the same spot as the start. As you'd expect, barcode scanning takes place on the grass straight after the finish.

the finish / barcode scanning

The event usually attracts around 300 participants every week, but we happened to visit on a particularly busy day. The results for event 585 were published later that morning and we had been part of a bumper crowd of 367 finishers. I'd like to make a special mention to the fact the course was very well marked and marshalled. On my travels I have noticed that established events can sometimes become complacent when it comes to these details. However, that certainly was not the case here. As always I had recorded the course with my Garmin and made a Relive fly-by video. The official post-event refreshments are noted to be had at the Hackney Marshes Centre. They have a fairly basic drink and food menu, and quite limited seating.

There are a couple of features of the marshes that I haven't mentioned that may be worth exploring post-parkrun. Firstly one of the southern areas that was previously football fields has been give over to nature and is called Wick Woodland. At the northern end are the former Middlesex Filter Beds which were used to filter water for drinking before modern-day solutions were developed. They are now a nature reserve. Also in the same area is an art installation called Nature's Throne. It is sometimes referred to as London's Stonehenge or Hackney Henge ('ackney 'enge). It consists of a number of large granite blocks arranged in a circular pattern - the blocks were originally the foundations of a Victorian Engine House. The central block is in the shape of a throne.

queen elizabeth olympic park

Sadly we didn't head north, as we had already decided to have a walk around the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park so we headed off to the south instead. The Olympic Park was partially developed on land previously part of Hackney Marshes, and the last time we were there was in 2012 for the Paralympics. During our walk we went inside the velodrome, had some refreshments, saw the Olympic Rings and the ArcelorMittal Orbit, explored the riverside path and stopped at a couple of playgrounds on our way to the park's centre piece which is of course the stadium (officially now called London Stadium and home to West Ham United Football Club).

We returned to the car a few hours later after a brilliant morning out in East London. Finally, a huge thank you to everyone that helped to put on Hackney parkrun event 585.

Related Links:

My GPS data of the old course  (2012) (no longer in use)

Sunday, 15 January 2023

Leavesden Country parkrun

Leavesden is a residential area in the north of Watford, Hertfordshire, and is home to around 6,000 people. It was a hamlet for much of its early history and remained largely agricultural right up until the 1930s when a number of housing developments were built. Just after the outbreak of the Second World War, Leavesden Aerodrome was built. Its main purpose was a base for the manufacture of the Handley Page Halifax heavy bomber and the de Havilland Mosquito fighter-bomber aircraft. Both of which contributed greatly to the war effort. Post-war, the site specialised in aircraft engine development largely by de Havilland and then Rolls-Royce, who eventually moved their operations elsewhere by the early-nineteen-nineties, and the site then closed completely.

The old airfield was not vacant for long, as Eon Productions leased the site, and the dis-used aircraft hangers were transformed into filming studios for the James Bond movie, GoldenEye. With the filming complete, the site was officially named Leavesden Studios and it quickly became popular within the film industry. Eventually the studios were taken over by Heyday Films, in order to start production on the Harry Potter series of films, and this arrangement stayed in place until Warner Bros. formally purchased the site in 2010.

Over the years many successful films have been shot or partially shot at Leavesden including Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Batman: The Dark Knight, Inception, the Paddington movies, and Spiderman: Far From Home. Since 2012, most people that visit the area are probably visiting the Harry Potter studios, or to use its full name, The Warner Bros. Studio Tour London - The Making of Harry Potter. The attraction is home to a large number of the sets used in the Harry Potter series of movies, which were also filmed here. The visitor attraction can accommodate up to 6,000 visitors per day, and it is of course very popular with fans of the books and films.

Moving back in time to the 19th century. In 1868 the Metropolitan Poor Act was passed and this lead to the formation of the Metropolitan Asylums Board (MAB). Its job was to assist London's sick and poor, and it did this through setting up institutions, workhouses, hospitals and asylums for 'quiet and harmless imbeciles'. One of these was established in Leavesden and it was originally known as 'The Leavesden Imbeciles Asylum', or possibly 'Leavesden Asylum for Idiots and Imbeciles'. It went on to become known as Leavesden Mental Hospital in 1920, and then, from 1937 as Leavesden Hospital.

The asylum contained space for thousands of patients, along with further space for over 600 orphans. It had its own school, gas works and sewage treatment system, and also a 42-acre farm complete with livestock. One of the asylum's inmates was suspected of being the infamous Jack the Ripper, however as the Ripper's identity has never been proven, it is not known if it was indeed him. The hospital is credited for its pioneering role in understanding, recognising and treating mental health conditions. Leavesden Hospital eventually closed down in 1997. The original hospital admin block survived and has been transformed into private housing. Some new housing and retail outlets have been built. The rest of the original grounds have now been transformed into Leavesden Country Park.

The country park covers an area of 27 hectares and very much focuses on the heritage and history of Leavesden, notably the hospital, the aerodrome and the film studios. You'll find beautifully restored Edwardian features and a remembrance garden. There are sculptures on display, all of which you will see if you follow the heritage trail. I will note here that the park itself is split into several separate sections which are intersected by a number of roads. Most of the heritage is found within the central parts of the site which sits to either side of College Road. Also, almost the entire park sits within the civil parish of Abbots Langley, not Watford.

The reason we had visited was, of course, to take part in Leavesden Country parkrun which has been a weekly fixture in the park since October 2022. The parkrun takes place in the most northerly section of the country park, which contains areas for sports, the park's main playground, a YMCA Community Hub, and some woodland. The YMCA building contains toilets, but please note that they do not officially open in time for parkrun. The parkrun page says they open at 9am, while the park's official website says 9.30am. Either way, if a toilet is essential you'd be well-advised to make a pit-stop during the journey. We stopped at the Watford North branch of McDonalds which around 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) to the south of the park. For the record, the park's toilet was open before 9am on the day we visited.

The official arrangement for car parking is detailed on the event's course page and you should really take care to read and understand this before visiting. Essentially the park has free car parking facilities for all park users, however the main car park itself is not huge. There are other users of it on Saturday mornings, so the arrival of parkrun (and a load of extra vehicles) seems to have placed it under quite a bit of strain. The official parkrun page directs parkrunners to initially use the part of the car park closest to the main vehicle entrance. Once this section is full, parkrunners are then free to use the main car parking facilities within the central point of the park.

If you are local enough to be able to cycle or walk, this would definitely be the way to go. There are bicycle racks outside the YMCA building. Equally if you are travelling from further away and can make public transport work, that would seem to be a sensible idea. The course page says the number 20 bus stops near the park. If you are arriving in the area by train I would expect you'd alight at either Kings Langley (1.8 miles) or Garston (1.7 miles), but as you can see, they are both a fair distance away. However the walk from Garston to the park does go straight past the aforementioned McDonalds. 

The meeting point for the parkrun is just outside the YMCA hub and playground where the briefings are held. The starting point is outside the multi-use caged sports courts. The course itself is almost a 50/50 split between grass and hard paths. When it's nice and dry underfoot you can confidently use road shoes, but once the wetter weather sets in this is definitely a course for trail shoes. The course is not totally flat, but neither is it hilly, My Garmin GPS data picked up 25 metres of elevation change (59 when imported into Strava). I think I'd categorise it as gently undulating. Buggy running is fine here, although if you don't like pushing the buggy through squelchy mud it's probably best to go in the summer. 

The route features a start tail, then three clockwise laps, all rounded off with a slightly shorter finish tail. The lap is split into two loops with a short two-way section joining them together (like an hourglass). The first loop takes place on the hard standing paths which meander very pleasantly through the park's woodland area. If visiting in December/January look out for the annual Fairy Trail where you'll find fairy doors and other hidden items nestled within the trees. At the end of this section, there's the short two-way section. Just keep left here to avoid collisions and take care to avoid barging past other people.

The course then enters the grass section at the north-east corner of the park. The first half goes around the Heritage Orchard where if you look carefully there is a wooden sculpture of an apple (half-eaten). The grass section continues into the area which contains the park's full-size football pitch. Following the perimeter of the field takes the participants to the two-way part and back into the woodland walk section. Once three full laps are complete, the course leaves the loop and heads back over towards the playground where the finish line can be found. Barcode scanning takes place right next to the finish.

There were ample marshals out on the course and plenty of signs and cones placed in all the right places, so navigating around the course should be nice and simple.

Once all of the morning's participants have completed the 5km, the team retreat to the YMCA Woodlands Cafe YMCA for the weekly post-parkrun refreshments and social. It had been pouring with rain all morning, so we were looking forward to some warm drinks and had fully intended to join them in the cafe. However, my four-year-old son fell face-first into a large puddle about 300 metres before the finish line and he was soaked from head-to-toe. We hadn't brought a full change of clothes for him, so we had to abandon the plan and head home a little earlier than originally planned.

I did manage to have a quick look at the heritage trail before leaving, while I didn't find all of the sculptures, I did spot most of them. I also found the Covid-19 Snake, which started out simply with children placing painted stones down during the lockdown period in 2020. The Three Rivers District Council set these stones in concrete as a permanent feature. Another feature to look out for is Arbi the Tree, found in the playground. I believe this name was given by the With Me Now podcast, so it was fun to see it! If you want to hear the With Me Now podcast profile of the venue, check out episode 228 (also on Spotify, Apple and Ko-Fi).

The results for event 12 were published shortly after the finish and 95 people had taken part. This number seems to be about spot-on the expected amount now that the initial rush of tourists has eased off. The venue sits outside of London, but within the M25, so is included in the London+ set of venues. The GPS course data and the Relive course fly-by video can both be found via the links below. Lastly, the volunteers really were great when we visited, so I'd like to add a huge thank you to them all for making us feel welcome and for standing out in the miserable weather while we slid and splashed around the course!


My GPS data from event 12 (14 January 2023)

Sunday, 8 January 2023

Malling parkrun

Malling forms the northern half of the Tonbridge and Malling Borough, in Kent. However there is no such town or settlement called Malling, which makes the naming of Malling parkrun quite intriguing. As I understand it, Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council were keen to have both elements of the borough's name represented within the names of its two parkruns, and even though it doesn't fit in with parkrun's naming convention policy, the council got their way.

This can of course prove a tad confusing for parkrunners trying to work out where they are heading. There are towns to the south of this venue called West Malling and East Malling, but not one called Malling. West Malling was historically known as Town Malling, but that is as close as you get. In any case, the venue for this event is actually closer to New Hythe, Snodland, Larkfield and Leybourne than it is to either of the Mallings.

The venue for the parkrun is Leybourne Lakes Country Park. The logical name for this parkrun would have been Leybourne Lakes parkrun, but we are where we are. Before the area became a country park, it used to be the site of sand and gravel pits which were extracted between 1946 and 1977. The country park covers an area of 230 acres and was opened in 2004. There are eight named ponds and lakes within the site as well as landscaped areas.

The country park is most well-known for its watersports and it has its very own Watersports Centre which specialises in activities such as open water swimming, windsurfing, canoeing, kayaking and scuba diving. It is also used for triathlons and there are various fishing clubs based here. The lakes are also home to many species of wildlife including the resident swans.

We first visited the country park and took part in Malling parkrun event 6 back in November 2015. We revisited in January 2023 and took part in event 288. Travel to the venue is easiest by car, but if using a sat-nav be mindful that they can sometimes direct visitors to the wrong part of the area - there doesn't seem to be a postcode for the park itself. We used Google maps and found that entering 'Leybourne Lakes Country Park' rather than a postcode navigated us right into the country park.

There is an on-site car park and the fee, as of 2023 payment can be made using the on-site payment machine or by using the RingGo app. On our most-recent visit we used RingGo. There is a charge of £1.80 for up to four hours of parking, and this should cover most parkrunners' needs. If longer is needed, the other option is to pay for the full day, which is £4. Please note there is a 'convenience charge' of 10p for using the app. Should the car park be full, additional parking can be found at the nearby Tesco.

If cycling there are cycle racks within the main car park area. If taking the train, New Hythe or Snodland appear to be the closest stations and either option leaves approximately 2km of walking to reach the parkrun meeting area. Please note that the toilets adjacent to the car park were permanently closed as of 31 October 2022. However there is a new cafe which has been constructed next to the parkrun meeting area and this contains a toilet - we found this to be open from around 8.30am.

The meeting point for the parkrun is on the north bank of Ocean Lake and this can be found by following the footpath out of the car park. Look out for the 'To The Lakes' sign, you cross over a small footbridge before reaching the right place. The event takes place at 9am every Saturday. As is standard with parkrun, there is a first-timers briefing and this is followed by a full briefing for everybody. The course is made up of two identical clockwise laps which start and finish on the north bank of Ocean Lake, just past the cafe.

It's a flat course and underfoot is mostly a stony trail-like surface. The jagged stones that protrude during the first half of the lap create quite a bumpy surface, so bear that in mind. The latter part of the lap has a smoother path. For shoe choice, it feels like it would be ok for road shoes if that is your preference, but some people may prefer the extra protection given by trail shoes while negotiating those protruding stones. I used the running buggy here in 2015 and although a little bumpy for my daughter, overall it was fine.

The start area is wide enough to accommodate a decent number of people, but this venue has become very popular so expect it to be a little congested at first. The course is very simple to follow as it simply follows the path which goes around Ocean Lake - whenever there is a split in the path always follow the right hand option. Given that it is such an easy to follow route, don't expect to see many marshals or signs out there on the course. There are enough twists and turns to keep things interesting and you may even spot some of the park's wooden animal features adjacent to the path.

At the end of the two laps, there is a finish funnel and in the usual parkrun way, it's a simple case of having your personal barcode and finishing token scanned before heading off. If you fancy hanging around, there is now a cafe (this wasn't here during our first visit). We grabbed a quick drink and some lovely pieces of cake before heading back to the car. The results were processed very swiftly and they show that 260 people participated in event 288.

I recorded the GPS data of the course using my Garmin and you can view that on Strava, there is also now a Relive course fly-by video on YouTube so feel free to take a look at that too (links below). The course is identical to the one we used on our first visit. The volunteers were, of course, amazing, so a huge thank you to everyone involved.

Related Links:

My GPS data on Strava (January 2023)

GPS data from car park to the start (with added milling around)(January 2023)

My original GPS data (November 2015)

The Kent parkruns (blog7t page)

Sunday, 20 November 2022

Lordship Recreation Ground parkrun

The area of Tottenham in north London has been occupied by humans for over a thousand years. It is said to be named after a farmer called Tota and was recorded in the Domesday Book as Toteham. Historically, a third of the land in Tottenham was owned by the Bruce family of Scotland. The area remained a rural settlement on the outskirts of London until the arrival of the railway in the late 19th century. This triggered a period of rapid expansion where many homes aimed at the working-class were constructed. Amongst all of this development, a notable area of land remained rural. This was Broadwater Farm, and it remained a working farm until its closure in 1916.

The main reason it had not been developed earlier was that the area was typically waterlogged or flooded due to the land being low-lying and the presence of the River Moselle. In 1932 the land was purchased by the local council where the eastern half was initially used for allotments. The western half was drained and repurposed as a public park called Lordship Recreation Ground. The section of the river that flowed through the former farmland was culverted to reduce the possibility of flooding. The eastern section was marked for future residential development.

tottenham / bruce castle / broadwater farm estate

Eventually, in 1967, the construction of housing commenced on the eastern half of the former farmland. This was a typical 1960's concrete, dense housing solution. Twelve residential buildings were built and together they formed the Broadwater Farm Estate. To protect homes from the risk of flooding, the ground floor was designated as space for car parking while the residential and retail units started from the first floor. The buildings were interconnected via walkways at first floor level. However not long after its completion, problems began to materialise. The design incorporated many isolated areas and crime grew out of control. I've read that during 1985, the estate recorded 875 burglaries or attempted burglaries, 50 robberies and 50 assaults.

Infamously, also in 1985, the estate was at the centre of the Broadwater Farm Riot which was the culmination of years of racial tension between the largely Afro-Caribbean community and the largely white police force. The tensions finally boiled over when a local Tottenham resident, Cynthia Jarrett, died following a police search of her home. During the riot a police officer, Keith Blakelock was killed. They both have memorial plaques locally, Cynthia Jarrett's is outside Tottenham Town Hall, while Keith Blakelock's is in Muswell Hill. In the following years, a £33 million regeneration scheme was launched, and widespread improvements were made across the estate.

The Lordship Recreation Ground, which sits in the shadow of the estate, continued throughout this time to provide a green space for local residents. However, like many public parks it suffered from years of neglect, but I'm pleased to say that this is no longer the case, and this is largely thanks to the Friends of Lordship Rec. The group have been meeting monthly ever since 2001 and have been instrumental in campaigning for regeneration works to improve the park.

lordship recreation ground

It is around 49 acres in size and opened in 1934. The modern-day park features a children's playground, a paddling pool, football pitches, BMX track, basketball court, an orchard, picnic area, outdoor gym, cafe and toilets. One of its most interesting and longest standing features is the Model Traffic Area, opened in 1938 and is a scaled-down version of a regular road system. It came from a time when the ownership of motor vehicles was still a relatively new concept. It was designed to be a safe environment for children to learn about road traffic and the rules of the road. It was the first of its kind in the UK and maybe even the first in the world. There is some video footage on YouTube from the opening ceremony in 1938.

The park's name comes from Tottenham's Manor House, which is now called Bruce Castle. However, I understand it was originally called Lordship House, and this is also reflected in the name of the road which runs along the park's northern border, Lordship Lane. Bruce Castle is said to be one of England's oldest surviving brick houses and is now a museum. It can be found just to the northeast of Lordship Recreation Ground. Since 1892, the grounds of Bruce Castle have been a public park, which makes it the oldest park in Tottenham.

Heaading back over to Lordship Recreation Ground, which is the largest park in Tottenham. In 2012, the River Moselle (also known as Moselle Brook) was restored to once again flow above ground through the centre of the park via a newly created meandering channel. Three scenic wooden bridges were also installed at this time. There is also a small lake. It is believed the lake is on the same site as an earlier Anglo-Saxon moat. It was once used for boating but has now been given over to wildlife where it provides home to birds, insects and amphibians.

briefings / start

In October 2022 the park became home to Lordship Recreation Ground parkrun, a free, weekly, timed, 5 kilometre event. Despite having the word 'run' in the name, the event is open to everyone and there is actually no need to run it at all. Walking is a perfectly acceptable way to participate. For those that are new to parkrun, you just need to register on the parkrun website where you will be assigned a unique barcode. This one barcode can then be used at any parkrun event worldwide and the result will be linked to your account. A printed copy of this is preferred, but it is now possible to have the barcode scanned directly from your phone screen.

Being a London parkrun, participants are encouraged to avoid using their cars to travel here. In fact the official Lordship Recreation Ground parkrun course page says that there is no car parking within or near the park and that the local roads are covered by Haringey Council's controlled parking zones. While I appreciate the sentiment behind discouraging car use, and not wanting to upset the locals, the information given does not tell the whole story. There are indeed controlled parking zones (CPZ), however, many of the CPZ's in the vicinity of the park only cover Monday to Friday.

It is true that some of the roads nearby do have parking restrictions on Saturdays but the exact timings of the restrictions vary from road to road. However many of the restrictions seem to be designed to be active when Tottenham Hotspur Football Club has a home match. The point here is to make sure you check the on-street signs before parking. When we visited, the roads to the south and the west of the park seemed to offer the best options. Just remember to be respectful and don't do anything that could cause problems between local residents and the parkrun organisers.

around the course / model traffic area

Public transport is of course the preferred method of travel, the closest London Underground station is Turnpike Lane and this is on the Piccadilly Line. It sits just over a kilometre to the west of the park. The London Overground stops at Bruce Grove which is a similar distance away but sits to the east of the park. Seven Sisters station seems to be the closest National Rail station (1.3 miles away), but as it runs along the same line as the London Overground, it'd be fairly easy to change to the Overground and just alight at Bruce Grove, which is much closer to the park. There seems to be a whole range of buses that stop close to the park. The parkrun course page covers the buses quite well, but the options seem to be the 123, 243, 144, 217, 231, 444 and W4.

We visited the park on 19 November 2022 and took part in event number 5. We entered via the gate off of Higham Road which is at the highest point of the park. If you stand in the right place, you can see Alexandra Palace in the distance (home to Ally Pally parkrun). The meeting point for the parkrun is in the centre of the park next to the Lordship Hub community centre, and this is also where the toilets can be found. There are two sets of cycle racks in the park; the first at the Lordship Hub and another set near the multi-use games area over on the eastern side. The 5 kilometres are covered over a three-and-a-bit lap course which uses the main tarmac paths around the park. The course is basically flat with just the slightest change in elevation of a couple of metres each lap, which makes it suitable for everybody including wheelchair users and for those pushing buggies.

The park is big enough to accommodate a two-lap course, but that would have involved a couple of trips up a hill. I learned from an interview on episode 227 of the With Me Now podcast that the decision to stick to the flat areas was an intentional design feature in order to make the event accessible to all. The event has two briefings. One is for first-timers, and took place outside the Lordship Hub. This was followed by the main briefing for everyone over at the start line. The start of the event is on the path that runs east-to-west across the centre of the park.

around the course / shell theatre / north side

The participants follow this path heading westwards and at the end turn left to join the main quadrilateral-shaped main loop which makes up the majority of the 5km. The route is really easy to follow, but there were also plenty of direction signs and marshals dotted around the course. The first significant feature that is encountered is the Model Traffic Area (the course goes through this area four times). It's such a brilliant feature of the park and is super cool to run through - just watch out for the low hanging branch on one of the trees. Also look out for the Shell Theatre with its bold eye-catching colour scheme - it has been a feature in the park for many years and has been used for all sorts of performances from tea dances in the 1940's to folk and jazz festivals in more recent times.

The lap continues right up to the northern end of the park where it passes the Lordship Lane entrance and this leads into the last part of the lap which heads along the western side of the park - this western side of the park really stood out for me, as I really enjoyed the meandering path which is lined with historic lamp posts. Once the three-and-a-bit laps are complete, the course turns onto the original east-west path from the eastern end where you pass back through the original start point and carry on a bit further until reaching the finish area.

north and west sides

The parkrun volunteers take care of barcode scanning right after the finish line and the Lordship Hub Cafe is the place to go for post-parkrun refreshments. The hub has a fairly limited range of food options but you can get the usual selection of drinks. It's run by volunteers, and this gives you a sense of how the local community really gets involved in all aspects of this park.

The hub also hosts all sorts of community events and sessions every day of the week. You'll find things like weekly older people's coffee mornings, yoga, pilates and capoeira classes, watercolour painting group, and a 'Lunch Hub and Pantry' where people on low incomes can get a free hot meal and also have access to a food bank. There's also a Hub Repair Cafe where clothes, toys and gadgets can be brought in and experienced fixers will assist in repairing them. Plus on the first Saturday of each month you can find The Trove Market which has lots of free activities as well as goods for sale on the stalls.


The community spirit is clearly very strong here, and this was also seen over at the Model Traffic Area, where we joined in with a children's bike training session run by the Wheely Tots charity. The kids were allowed to borrow bikes and spent a good hour riding around the mini roads.

I was hoping to find some locally made Tottenham Cake while we were here, but I couldn't find anywhere that sold any in the vicinity of the park. Tottenham Cake is a tray-baked sponge with a pink icing on top. It was created by a local baker named Henry Chalkley and the pink colouring for the icing came from the Mulberries that grew in the grounds of the Quaker House on Tottenham High Road.

I recorded the parkrun course using my Garmin, and the GPS data can be viewed on my Strava account. That data was also used to create a Relive course fly-by video, and that can be viewed on YouTube. The results for event 5 were online shortly after the event. At the time of writing it is difficult to know exactly how many participants this event will attract on a regular basis, but on this particular week there were 229 finishers. The numbers are still a little inflated as there are still a large number of tourists visiting, so it'll settle down soon enough.

post parkrun: the hub / model traffic area

This is one of those places where the history of its past events had made me feel a little nervous about attending, but what we found when we arrived was the most amazing community of people doing things purely to make their neighbourhood a better place to live in. Not all places we visit are like this, and we were only there for a very short period of time, but we could definitely feel it in the air. It's so, so humbling to see this in action. This was captured on film when BBC Countryfile did a piece on Lordship Rec, it's available on YouTube and definitely worth watching.

The parkrun, of course, perfectly encapsulates the same values, and I'm sure it'll be such an important part of the future of the park and the community that uses it. Thank you so much to all of the volunteers for putting the event on and for the very warm welcome when we visited.

Related Links:

The course GPS data (November 2022)
The course fly-by video (November 2022)

Sunday, 13 November 2022

Dartford parkrun

Dartford is a town in Kent with a population of around 115,000 people. The area is thought to have been inhabited since pre-historic times, at least 250,000 years ago. The beginnings of the town we know today came from around 2,000 years ago when the Romans built the main road from Dover to London. The road had to cross the River Darent via a ford resulting in the town initially being known as Darentford (recorded in the Domesday book as Tarentford). The name Darent is thought to mean 'clear water'. The first substantial settlement is thought to have been set up in Saxon times. In the 14th century Dartford Priory was established and this remained until King Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries saw the Priory closed down c.1539 and the estate was transferred to the Crown.

Henry VIII upgraded the Manor House and by 1545 had added a Gatehouse. It is known that Henry held meetings of his Privy Council here and for 5 days in 1545 Dartford was the seat of the national government. King Henry's fourth wife and Queen of England, Anne of Cleves was given the Manor House as part of her divorce settlement and resided here for a number of years before her death in 1557. The Gatehouse and part of the original priory wall survive to this day. The Gatehouse can be found on Priory Road along with part of the wall which also runs along Victoria Road.

around the town: gatehouse / library / station / church tower

Dartford has many other links to royalty and other historic events. Henry III's sister, Isabella, was married by proxy here in 1235 to the German emperor Frederick II. Wat Tyler is said to have assembled in Dartford with his rebels during the Peasants Revolt before marching towards London. In 1415 Henry V is said to have attended a thanksgiving with 700 soldiers in Dartford's Holy Trinity Church after victory at the Battle of Agincourt during the Hundred Years War. Just a few years later, in 1422, his body rested here while being taken from France to Westminster for his funeral. It is known that the Duke of York camped on an elevated area known as The Brent with his army (allegedly 10,000 men) during the War of the Roses, in preparation for a battle with Henry VI who had assembled at Blackheath. The duke eventually reached a settlement with the King (or surrendered) and no battle took place.

The good water quality of the river lead to many water-based industries such as brewing, fulling and fabric printing becoming based in the town. In 1588 Dartford was the site of England's first paper mill and England's first Iron-slitting mill was opened here in 1590. The site of the paper mill was subsequently used in the manufacture of gunpowder. Mining engineer and inventor, Richard Trevithick, designer of the first working railway steam locomotive, lived in Dartford for the final year of his life. He had been working at the Messrs J&E Hall manufactoring company which occupied the site of the Priory. He died here penniless in 1833 and is buried in St Edmund's Pleasance burial ground which is at the top of East Hill. However, as many grave stones were removed the exact position of his body is unknown. A commemorative plaque can be found within the grounds. It is also a great spot to look at the view over the town.

around the town: library and flowers / bridge / the wat tyler / mick jagger / war memorial

The Buroughs Wellcome chemical works, founded by Sir Henry Wellcome, had a large presence in the town. Through a series of mergers it eventually became part of the GlaxoSmithKline pharmaceutical company which continued the link with Dartford, however in 2008 GSK announced that they would be leaving the town - this has now happened and the land redeveloped into housing. Dartford was home to the Littlebrook power station which featured one of the tallest chimneys in the country. The power station closed down for good in 2015 and the chimney was demolished in 2019. We used to be able to see it from our front room window, and I had a soft spot for it. I remember watching it come down early one Sunday morning. The site is now home to an Amazon warehouse.

The famous pop artist Peter Blake was born in Dartford, he designed a number of album covers for musical artists such as The Who, Paul Weller and Oasis, but most notable is his work on co-creating the cover for The Beatles album Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. While on the subject of music, the town was the birthplace of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. They attended the same primary school together, but then lost touch. They famously met again on platform two of Dartford Railway Station in 1961 and of course went to be part of one of the most famous rock and roll bands of all time. They are one of many famous bands who used Vox amps which were manufactured in Dartford by Jennings Musical Industries.

central park

The modern-day Dartford is largely a commuter town for workers in London, but the most famous landmark is probably the Dartford Crossing where the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge dominates the sky line. The main shopping area in the town centre suffered greatly upon the opening of the nearby Bluewater Shopping Centre, but recent developments have lead to the appearance being improved in recent years. To the south of the High Street is Dartford's main public green space, Dartford Central Park. A small section of land had been donated to the town and the initial park opened in 1905. Over the years features have come and gone, and the most-recent expansion was the purchase of land formerly owned by GlaxoSmithKline, which brought the total size of the park up to 26 acres.

It features very well kept flower gardens (45,000 plants are planted each year to create these) as well as a circular flower-bed where an intricate design can be found. This changes every year or so and tends to feature designs that mark significant occasions such as the Queen's Platinum Jubilee, which is the design at time of writing. There is a children's playground (a complete redesign is due in early 2023), cafe, bandstand, skate park and open sports pitches, plus the River Darent discreetly flows through the centre. At the far south of the park is a sports track which is home to Dartford Harriers and Central Park Athletics. The track, which now has a distinctive blue surface, is notable as the location of Zola Budd's first race on British soil which attracted a large crowd and was broadcast live on BBC's Grandstand. She won the race and set the venue's female 3,000m track record, and I believe it still stands today. 

dartford parkrun start and opening section

The athletics track clubhouse is the base for the park's free, weekly, timed 5k event called Dartford parkrun. I have a strong personal link to this venue, not only is it my home parkrun, I was involved in its creation and part of the core team during the first few years of operation. Meeting my friends at 7.30am on a Saturday to set the course up week after week, even through the winters, remain as some of my best parkrun memories. I gradually stepped back from being in the core team and now tend to help out every now and then as the tail walker, which I really enjoy doing.

For anybody visiting, Dartford is of course not far from the M25 so is quite simple to get to. The athletics track has a car park and this can be used by parkrun attendees for the duration of the event. If parking there it is worth noting that on some weeks the car park is only available until a certain time, usually 11am. If cycling there are cycle racks at the main entrance of the park near the town centre and outside the park's cafe, but most cyclists tend to use the fence around the athletics track area to secure their bike. Many local buses pass through the town and the main hub of bus stops is located next to the train station (the buses also used to stop outside the park, but the redeveloped town centre means they no longer take this route).

bridges and off-road section

Dartford has good train links and the station is a significant hub which has three different lines running in and out of London, as well as a line which goes off deeper into north Kent. The station is about 1km from the parkrun meeting area, but after about 500 metres the route enters the park itself. You just have to walk across to the far side. As far as toilets are concerned, the general public toilets within the park are located less then a minute from the athletics track, however there are toilets within the track's clubhouse that parkrunners are free to use. Bags and belongings can also be left in here.

The parkrun itself starts right outside the track entrance with the start line conveniently placed in-between two trees. First-timers and the main briefings take place on the grass here before the event gets underway. The original course was two laps but that was changed to assist in spreading attendees out and to avoid lapping occurring at a particular pinch point. The current course has been in use for the majority of the event's existence. You may hear people refer to the course as a two-and-a-half lapper, but I prefer to describe it as a three lap course. The first lap is a small loop around the main open grass area and this brings everyone back around to the start line about 700 metres later. The remaining two full laps are then commenced with the field nicely spread out.

the football fields and back into the main park

While following the initial same path as the opening lap, the full lap takes a turn over the River Darent via the park's twin bridges. The course then enters an area which most locals have never ventured into. It's a grassy trail path which follows the river and at the end swings in a short uphill section through a wooded area. There are some significant tree routes here so care must be taken, and during periods of heavier rain you may even spot the flow of water running down the path. At the top of this path the route follows the edge of the grass sports fields until reaching the path where the course heads downhill and back across the bridges.

Back in the main section of the park the course rejoins the original small loop for a short section before heading round towards the formal flower beds. This area of the park is also home to one of the arches from the town's old medieval bridge which was reconstructed in its present location in 1923. A stream used to flow under it but it is now underground. From here the lap works its way back towards the start/finish area following the path around the bandstand which is officially called the Sir Henry Wellcome Bandstand. It dates from 2010 so is quite a new addition to the park. On Sundays during the summer there are usually a series of free concerts performed by various local brass bands. The route again rejoins the original smaller loop and this now leads round to the start area, which at the end of the final lap is now the finish.

cafe / bandstand / northern section of park

As the course is mixed terrain I find trail shoes better during the winter, especially during the uphill trail section which can be quite slippery when it is wet, however there is still a fair amount of tarmac so some may prefer to stick with road shoes. The course is generally fine for buggy runners, but again it's the uphill trail section which can be problematic - the tree roots in a couple of spots are significantly raised creating quite a lumpy path. Given this section I would say that it is not the best course to attempt if using a wheelchair. Another thing to note is that the parkrun usually suffers from three pre-planned cancellations throughout the year; The Trevithick Steam Fair (May), The Dartford Festival (July) and then again for the Dartford Fireworks Display (November).

The barcode scanning takes place on the grass next to the finish line and some light refreshments, sweets and crisps can be purchased from the Central Park Athletics clubhouse. For a more significant breakfast the best place would probably be The Flying Boat Wetherspoons near the High Street, but the park also has its own cafe next to the playground.

medieval bridge / end of lap/finish

The results are processed in the clubhouse so would usually be published quite soon after the tailwalker crosses the finish line. The usual attendance figures hover around the 150-200 mark. The GPS data of the course can be found on my Strava account and if you'd like to see a Relive fly-by video I have one on YouTube. I should also note that I have used a selection of photos taken between 2014 and 2022, but the majority were taken in 2022. Most were taken by me but there are others where I cannot find the name of the photographer in order to add a credit.

Related links:

Dartford Heath parkrun (blog7t write-up)

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